"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
SALVATION IS GOD'S WORK
Having confessed in Article 19 what the Scriptures teach concerning the person of Christ, deBres now moves on to make confession of the work of Christ. To do so, though, deBres begins with confessing God's work. "We believe that God... sent His Son to assume that nature in which disobedience had been committed ..." Here the accent is on God. Salvation did not begin with man, nor did it begin with the Son offering Himself to the Father. "...God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). And: "the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36). Salvation begins with God.
God had created man to be His people, but man fell into sin, broke the bond between God and himself, and instead bound himself to Satan and became "dead in trespasses and sin" (Ephesians 2:1). Since man was in a state of death, it was impossible for us to call out to God for help and salvation. When deBres confesses that salvation commenced with God, he builds on the material confessed in Article 14: with our fall into sin we became dead. It was God who sought us in Genesis 3; it was God who acted (see also Article 17).
GOD'S JUSTICE AND GOD'S MERCY (Not God's justice versus God's mercy)
In the first sentence of this article, God is described as "perfectly merciful." We accept such a description quite readily, for it certainly is mercy that God sent His Son to bring sinners from Satan's side back to His side. We don't accept as readily that God is "perfectly just". It does not strike us as justice that God sends His Son to pay for our sin. We wonder: wouldn't it rather have been justice on God's part to say to fallen man, 'your plight is your own fault, now suffer the consequences?' Scripture, though, does not speak in these terms, and it is on the basis of Scripture that deBres confesses that it was both God's justice and His mercy which caused Him to send His Son.
God demonstrated both His mercy and His justice in that He sent His Son for the benefit of the lost. To use the words of deBres, "God therefore manifested His justice against His Son when He laid our iniquity on Him." What I the sinner deserved, God poured onto Christ. God did not leave sin unpunished; He is too just for that. In the words of Lord's Day 4, Q & A 11: "His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul." So God poured out His wrath, insisted on payment: justice.
At the same time God was so very merciful. For the wrath we deserved was poured out on Another so that we might go free. This is mercy, that those "who were guilty and worthy of damnation" should receive goodness, forgiveness. Christ was sent to the cross to bear the wrath of God against my sin, and the result is that my sins are paid for; God is angry with me no longer! Christ stood in the place of the sinner, bore the wrath of God for us so that the sinner is set free: that is God's mercy.
The one characteristic of God cannot be played off against the other. It is incorrect to say that God's love cancels out His wrath or that God's justice cancels out His mercy. Both God's justice and His mercy need to receive full attention. It is because God is just that His wrath had to be poured out, and it is because God is merciful that His wrath was not poured out on all sinners, but on Christ in place of sinners. It is the two together that point up Who my God really is.
The God of the Old Testament
is often understood as the God of anger, whereas the God of the New Testament
is perceived as the God of love. This is incorrect. God demonstrated His justice
and His mercy equally in Genesis 3 when He sent man out of Paradise (justice)
and at the same time come with the protevangel (mercy). Equally, God in the
NT displayed His mercy to us by sending Christ to earth (Luke 2) and His justice
by sending Christ to the cross (Luke 23). In His mercy God is just and in
His justice God is merciful.